Elegant Escape can enhance the fine record of Welsh National winners in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, according to Simon Holt. Don't miss his recommended bets for the final day of the Festival.
Recommended bets: Friday March 15
Friday's Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup looks a race to savour, but stamina seems sure to be important and the Welsh Grand National winner ELEGANT ESCAPE will be staying on better than most.
Colin Tizzard's improving seven-year-old, who finished third behind Presenting Percy in the RSA Chase here last year, is seen by many as the trainer's third string behind defending champ Native River and Thistlecrack.
But Chepstow winners have a decent record in the Gold Cup and the mid-winter marathon has been won by the likes of Burrough Hill Lad, Cool Ground, Master Oats, Synchronised and, indeed, by Native River in the past.
So what's needed for the Welsh National is often what's also required for a Gold Cup and Elegant Escape's running-on second to Frodon in the Cotswold Chase here at the end of January was a good trial and showed that, if anything, he had come on from his win at Chepstow.
Stable-companion Native River seems certain, like last year when eventually beating Might Bite in an epic duel, to force the pace but there hasn't been a huge amount of spark in his two outings this season, even if conditions for one reason or another at Haydock and Kempton were not entirely suitable.
Might Bite has been much more disappointing since last spring but has reportedly been working much better recently following some medication for stomach ulcers.
Irish eyes will certainly be smiling if the popular Presenting Percy can win for a third time at the Festival, but an unorthodox preparation involving just one winning run over hurdles is a little off-putting even if he looked all over a future Gold Cup winner here last year.
Clan Des Obeaux has been the emerging star on this side of the Irish Sea, beating Thistlecrack and Native River in the King George followed by an impressive prep at Ascot. Paul Nicholls, who knows what it takes to win Gold Cups, thinks the world of this exciting chaser and is convinced (while others have reservations) about his stamina for the final climb.
My view is that he probably stays well enough, but might not want to be in front too soon given the punishing nature of the closing stages.
Willie Mullins, who has sent out the runner-up on six occasions, is represented by Kemboy, Bellshill, Al Boum Photo and Invitation Only preferred in that order. It was a slowly-run Savills Chase that Kemboy won at Leopardstown in December but still impressive how he sprinted away and, if trademark jumping errors can be avoided, he must have chances.
In addition, fellow Irish raider Anibale Fly has each-way claims again after his keeping-on third last year before finishing fourth in the Grand National, and Tony Martin's charge appeared to enjoy the perfect prep when chasing home Monalee over just two-and-a-half miles at Gowran Park last month.
Earlier, Barry Geraghty has opted to ride Birchdale for his boss J P McManus in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle but I prefer the same owner's DICKIE DIVER, the mount of Aidan Coleman.
While Birchdale certainly showed a good level of form when winning at Warwick and on this course (left clear at the last), Dickie Diver's potential over this trip has been all too obvious in two outings at Chepstow, chasing home the re-opposing Lisnagar Oscar on his hurdles debut and then easily justifying odds-on favouritism.
In one previous race, the now six-year-old won his Irish point-to-point by 20 lengths in heavy ground and only three finished so this stamina test should be ideal.
In the closing Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle, course conditions and the distance should suit MR ANTOLINI.
Last year's Imperial Cup winner clearly failed to stay three miles at Sandown in February, but had run well previously when fifth first time out here (Old Course) behind First Assignment, second to Black Mischief at Haydock (2m3f good) and a staying-on fifth to Mohaayed at Ascot (2m).
At no time this season has Mr Antolini raced under these conditions and over two-and-a-half miles which I believe could be his optimum. If so, he will be hard to keep out of the frame under young Jordan Nailor.